Sri Lanka A coach Avishka Gunawardene was pleased the home series against West Indies A had served its purpose of grooming young players, despite the 3-0 loss in the one-dayers. Gunawardene was also satisfied that the four-day matches - which his team won 2-1 - had allowed Dimuth Karunaratne and Kusal Perera to find form before the tours of Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Karunaratne and Kusal played the first two unofficial Tests, tallying 241 runs and 176 runs respectively. While Karunaratne scored a century and a fifty, Kusal notched up two half-centuries. Both batsmen struck hundreds in the first Test against Zimbabwe.
The senior squad in Harare includes another four men who had played the four-day games against West Indies A, which pleased Gunawardene. "The idea was to groom players for the next level and out of the players picked for Zimbabwe, three were fast bowlers Lahiru Gamage, Lahiru Kumara, Kasun Madushanka and one batsman Asela Gunaratne. The other positive factor was we wanted to get Dimuth Karunaratne and Kusal Perera back in form. Both of them scored runs in the ongoing Zimbabwe first Test.
"We also wanted to have a look at how (Niroshan) Dickwella was as a wicketkeeper-batsman at No. 6 because (Dinesh) Chandimal wasn't sure of going on the tour. Then there was legspinner Jeffrey Vandersay who was out with an injury for almost six months. We managed to play him in two four-day games and in the last one he got his rhythm back."
Vandersay was returning to cricket after an eight-month break. In his first match back, he took 2 for 190 and Sri Lanka A lost by 333 runs. In the the series decider though, he took 6 for 47 to bowl West Indies A out for 194 and set up a 138-run win. Gunawardene also praised 19-year-old Charith Asalanka, who took 11 wickets with his offspin and scored 104 runs in the three unofficial Tests.
"Another plus point is that we played Charith Asalanka throughout the tour," he said. "Although he didn't make any big impact, in patches he did well with both bat and ball. Both Under-19 fast bowlers [Lahiru Kumara and Asitha Fernando] played in the unofficial Test series and one of them [Lahiru] went on the Zimbabwe tour."
Gunawardene said the pitches prepared for the A series were hard and bouncy keeping in mind those Sri Lanka might get on tour later this season. "It was a decision that was taken prior to the series that we would prepare tracks more like the ones that Sri Lanka are bound to come up against in Zimbabwe and South Africa. We played on such good surfaces that you can hardly say you were playing in Sri Lanka. Up to the fourth day we didn't see much spin on the track."
Despite the mixed results, Gunawardene said the team had stuck to its policy of testing new players and combinations, giving a chance to 30 players in the series.
"If you are talking overall about the tour, someone like Sandun Weerakkody was a good sign. We all knew that he was good and when we gave him the opportunity in the four-day match he came off with a good innings. It was also nice to see Shehan Jayasuriya getting into form with a hundred [in the one-dayers] and he is bowling well too.
"Another thing was that we were trying to find out the fast-bowling combinations - who could bowl with the new ball upfront and who could bowl with the older ball at the death. The plan was whether the bowlers came off well or not. We wanted to see how well they will adapt. Even though they went for runs sometimes we persisted with them for a couple of more overs to give them the experience and expose them for the latter part of the innings.
"If you take all the fast bowlers we used in the one-dayers, there was Keshan Wijerathne who has not played a single first-class game in his career, Binura Fernando was coming out of an injury and hadn't played much but he is still in his early 20s, then Anuk Fernando, a left-arm seamer who is only 21. Out of all the fast bowlers, most of them haven't played much first-class cricket, they are pretty young and they need to play at the higher level for some time, [play] more domestic cricket. We have identified them as good potential but they need some time, a bit of a long-term plan and we need to be patient with them."
Gunawardene praised Rahkeem Cornwall, the most impressive player for West Indies A on the tour. The offspinner from Antigua took 23 wickets in the three four-day games at 19.82, including an eight-for in the first unofficial Test.
"Credit to him, he was very precise with his lines and lengths and he would give very little bad balls away," said Gunawardene. "He used to vary his pace very well. The other factor was that we had about six left-handers in our line-up at the top and that made it easier for him."
Sri Lanka A's next series is against England Lions who are due to visit in February.